PAINFUL, INFLAMED JOINTS: Arthritis occurs when the cartilage that surrounds a joint is damaged. While there are more than 100 different types of arthritis, the most common form is osteoarthritis, which is caused by trauma or general  wear and tear on the joints. Trauma can be degenerative, which is generally a result of aging; it can come from an injury; or it can be the result of obesity, as excess weight can wear out the cartilage and stress the joints. Other forms, such as rheumatoid arthritis, are caused by an overactive immune system, but all forms of arthritis are painful. Symptoms can include swollen joints, warmth, redness, stiffness or soreness, and pain.

> ARTHRITIS IS COMMON: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, arthritis is America’s #1 cause of disability; by 2030, an estimated 67 million Americans ages 18 years or older will be diagnosed with the disease. There is no cure for arthritis, but treatment to reduce swelling and pain can come from over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, topical analgesics, and/or natural supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin, Arnica, and peppermint oil. Applying ice to the area also reduces swelling, while heat soothes the sore areas. This is why a warm paraffin bath is therapeutic and essential to include in your arthritic client’s manicure. Paraffin was first used by physicians in the 1950s to help patients suffering from arthritis.

> LIMITED MOBILITY: For many, arthritis is damaging and painful enough that it severely limits daily activities, such as getting dressed, climbing stairs, or preparing food. Remember that arthritis occurs when the cartilage that surrounds the joint becomes damaged. When the cartilage wears away, the mobility of the joint is compromised because it no longer has a shock absorber to provide a smooth range of motion. The body then compensates by producing synovial fluid (a substance that lubricates the joint), the area surrounding the joint becomes swollen with the fluid, and motion becomes restricted. It becomes painful to move, so many people tend to respond to this stiffness and soreness by resting. Unfortunately, keeping the sore area immobile tightens the ligaments and reduces the joint’s range of motion even more, which causes more pain. Arthritis sufferers should exercise and stretch as much as can be tolerated. Massage can also help to relieve soreness and increase joint flexibility. Gently massage your client’s hands, focusing on the joints of the fingers and wrist. Susan M. Tobin at Get Nails in Delray Beach, Fla., offers an herbal/aromatherapy massage using oils she custom blends for clients with arthritis. She uses dried ginger root — which is calming, warming, relieves inflammation and is good for poor circulation — and sweet orange oil, which is also anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and encourages detoxification.

> DISFIGURATION: Over time, arthritis can severely disfigure the joints. Patients with rheumatoid arthritis may have abnormal nails if the arthritis affects the fingertips. The joint located nearest the cuticle is very close to the nail matrix, so arthritis and inflammation in that location could affect it and cause abnormalities. Refer your client to a physician before you perform any nail service if she has arthritis of the distal finger joint, longitudinal ridging on the nails, or spontaneous thickening of the nail bed.

Arthritic’s Rx  

Here are a few things to keep in mind when performing nail services on arthritic clients:

Massage: Spend a little extra time massaging your client’s hands, and focus on the joints of the fingers and wrists. Offer to use massage creams or lotions that are both moisturizing for the skin and include ingredients that provide relief for the joints.

Artificial Nails: Because techs hold fingers near the joint and rotate it back and forth while shaping, artificial nail services could become painful for clients with arthritis. Always check in with your client to make sure you are not causing her discomfort. If artificial nail services prove painful, you might suggest natural nail services as an alternative, assuring her that her hands and nails will still look beautiful, but the maintenance visits will be gentler and more pleasant for her.

Paraffin Dips: Paraffin dips are ideal for clients with arthritis. According to the Institute for Integrative Healthcare Studies, warm paraffin wax dips increase circulation, which helps to ease pain. A 2006 Cochrane review cited positive results for paraffin wax treatments on arthritic hands.  Researchers measured the range of motion, pinch function, grip strength, stiffness, and pain levels of patients undergoing four weeks of paraffin therapy, concluding that the patients experienced significant improvement in these areas.

Self-Care: As a nail tech, you may find that the repetitive motion of the job is causing wear and tear to your own joints. Be sure to stretch your hands and body between clients, use ergonomic tools, such as the Wrist-Assist, and make time to enjoy massage and paraffin baths for your own hands.

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